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InvestmentNews takes advisers through the developments and innovations in technology that’ll change the way you do business today—and tomorrow.

How automation and integration can turn advisory firms into well-oiled machines

Advisers that resist embracing a truly integrated technology platform are missing out

Nov 9, 2015 @ 12:33 pm

By Leslie D. Thompson

The thoughtful, personalized counsel that advisers bring to their clients can never be replicated by an algorithm or robo-adviser &mdash: but at the same time, the benefits that technology-enabled workflow automation provides for independent wealth management firms cannot be ignored.

Those that resist embracing a truly integrated technology platform are missing out on the opportunity to not only generate operational efficiencies, but also transform their practices into well-oiled machines that proactively and collaboratively help clients meet all their wealth management needs.

By 2008, we knew that our firm's lack of automation was holding us back, and we began searching for a technology provider. We wanted a unified wealth management platform to support our evolving portfolio- and client- management needs.

We also were looking for a single-vendor relationship so that all training, consulting and support related to our technology platform came from one source — and we believed that a single provider,controlling all data in its various systems and software could deliver more meaningful integration. We finally found such a partner, which provided a platform that unified portfolio management and performance reporting with a client portal; portfolio monitoring, rebalancing and trading; and a client-relationship-management system — all of which complement each other through data-sharing and meaningful integration.

(Related insight: Comparing the tools and features of adviser-facing CRMs)

Not everyone at our firm needs to use the platform's portfolio management, reporting and rebalancing applications, but all team members have been trained to use the platform's CRM system, which ties all the software together.

No matter what role a team member has, he/she can run automated workflows and seamlessly communicate with colleagues and clients without having to toggle between various programs. Furthermore, whenever a client calls our office requesting account information or reports, any team member can seamlessly locate and send the content using the CRM and client portal.

The platform's automated workflows have strengthened our overall firm in a myriad of ways. For example, our office receives a number of checks for client accounts, and documenting and processing them used to take us many hours every week.

However, we created a custom dialogue box in our CRM to simplify the workflow for tracking and depositing checks, which has cut our weekly time commitment for that process in half. All our client associates have to do is enter certain information for each check regardless of account, which is automatically shared with the rebalancing and portfolio management applications. To cap it off, the CRM automatically sends emails to every client confirming that an account deposit has been received and processed.

The platform has also streamlined the opening of new accounts. This is a cumbersome process involving many steps, as every adviser knows — but the dialogue box we created for it in the CRM ensures every step can be completed efficiently and accurately across the platform's different applications. The automated workflow gives our advisers confidence that accounts were opened properly, and saves them time they can devote to wealth management and client communication.

The same goes for account rebalancing. Prior to adopting our technology platform, we employed a professional whose sole task was to manually compile Excel spreadsheets for rebalancing. Now, our automated rebalancing application allows us to simultaneously run multiple models, all of which take specific client preferences into consideration, in individual portfolios.

(More: What happens if banks make client data aggregation more difficult?)

Through automation, we can run block trades across portfolios with greater compliance oversight — and also calculate projections of how potential trades would affect client accounts from tax and other standpoints — in seconds.

Before we automated our workflow processes, it would take us at least a month to prepare, print, and mail quarterly reports to clients. Today, it takes a week.

The portfolio management and performance reporting application on our platform enables us to easily transfer account data into a variety of pre-formatted reports, and share them electronically through the client portal — a process that takes a matter of minutes. The only time-intensive steps in the process are writing the quarterly commentary and editing.

Digital technology in our industry has rendered quarterly reports almost irrelevant for some clients. For example, our clients can obtain account updates through our platform's client portal at any time and from any location. In keeping with this trend, we are harnessing our automated workflow capabilities to quickly create on-demand client reports, as opposed to quarterly reports. In this way, our platform's combination of automated processes and cutting-edge digital technology not only saves us time, but also fosters more meaningful long-term engagement with clients.

Truly integrated technology platforms enable the automation that empowers wealth management firms to run more-efficient businesses, strengthen client relationships, and scale for long-term growth—without having to hire additional personnel. This has been our experience with Envestnet | Tamarac's Adviser Xi platform.

Wherever your technology vendor search takes you, make sure the vendor has a long track record of delivering and supporting best-in-class applications that work together seamlessly to automate a broad set of workflows across your business.

Leslie D. Thompson is managing principal and co-founder of Spectrum Management Group, an independent boutique wealth management firm.

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